Record keeping key to better farm management
Identifying cropping trends that yield economic benefits.
November 13, 2007 By Top Crop Manager
Record keeping – it is by no means a new concept, but in an increasingly
complex business it can be critical to a farm's success. Good record keeping
systems provide growers with a detailed description of current and past cropping
practices as well as field challenges and successes on a field-by-field basis.
Whether high or low tech, an effective system can help with farm efficiency
and lead to the development of future crop plans that are capable of advancing
an operation and improving the bottom line.
Field records help growers make profitable seed genetics
Record keeping systems that accumulate multiple years of data benefit growers
by providing a quick reference log of all previous cropping practices, from
seed-drill settings to pesticide application details. Dave Townsend, technical
services manager for NK Brand Seeds, says these records really pay off in the
long-term. They help growers identify trends that enable them to tailor their
crop plan to continually produce the best possible yields.
"Comparing multiple years of data is one of the best ways for growers
to identify trends that will impact their operation," says Townsend. "For
example, multiple year data will give growers a good idea of each field's productivity,
challenges and what kinds of crops and varieties perform the best in them. This
enables growers to select the best-suited seed genetics for the specific field
characteristics. As a result, they strategically seed high value and high yield
potential crops on their most productive fields."
Chuck Baresich, product specialist with Farm Credit Canada's AgExpert software,
agrees with Townsend. "Crop records ultimately give growers a starting
point," he explains. "There is no silver bullet in any crop plan that
is suddenly going to help a grower hit the yield jackpot. It's the trends and
incremental changes that records uncover over time that really allow growers
to build their yields and bottom line."
"A minimum of three years of records is extremely important for planning
successful crop rotations," adds Townsend. "A grower using a three
year rotation should have access to at least six years of records to start directly
comparing crops and data on a field-by-field basis."
Organization and ease-of-use are key
An effective record keeping system can not only record multiple years of data,
but it provides growers with the ability to organize their farm data efficiently.
Baresich says that this efficient organization is a major benefit to growers
who want to extract useful insight from their records. A well-organized record
keeping system allows growers to more accurately analyze the field records they
have tracked, enabling them to create reports, identify trends, learn from past
experiences and effectively share operation data with consulting knowledge resources,
such as agronomists.
Without an efficient record keeping system and up-to-date records it is hard
for growers to make economical decisions. "It is very difficult for growers
lacking field records to repeat what they did well last year," says Baresich,
who also cash crops 2200 acres with his brother in Lambton County. "It's
also very difficult to prevent making the same mistakes."
Employing a record keeping system that growers are comfortable with will determine
the usefulness of field records. "Record keeping is personal," says
Townsend. "As long as growers are recording all necessary information in
a manner that is usable for them, how they keep records comes down to their
operation needs and comfort level with technology."
Choosing a system that works
While both Townsend and Baresich acknowledge they have seen excellent handwritten
record keeping systems, both agree the systems that allow for data to be transferred
into a computer, provide superior benefits. Computerized systems – whether
a personally customized spreadsheet or a program specifically designed for agricultural
record keeping – allow growers to easily compare data, make calculations,
overlay records and produce reports. These systems can also easily be backed-up
on a disk to avoid losing years of data, key to the success of an operation.
An efficient, computerized system has four key components. It should be transportable,
allowing growers to have it with them at all times; it should be easy for them
to use; it should provide flexibility in detail, enabling growers to record
various types of information, and as much or as little as they want; and it
should allow growers to carry a complete history of their fields with them at
all times for quick reference.
Baresich says when choosing a record keeping system, or upgrading a current
system, talk to an expert. The first thing growers should consider is what they
absolutely need to know about their fields and what they want their record keeping
system to provide. Second, consider information that would be nice to have recorded.
Making up-front decisions on necessary information and desired system functions
will help growers narrow down the options to allow them to select a system they
will be comfortable using and that will meet their operation objectives.
The final step when purchasing or upgrading a record keeping system is practice.
"It's important to get comfortable with the system and how it works,"
explains Baresich. "I recommend taking time to get familiar with the system
over the winter while growers complete crop planning. It's a good idea to make
it part of your everyday routine before seeding hits."
Because no two growers or operations
are alike, it is important for growers to customize their systems to fit their
comfort level, information needs and operation type. Bev Ritchie of Parkhill
and Mark Lumley of Sarnia are just two examples of Ontario cash crop growers
making record keeping systems work for them. Here's how:
Bev and Dwayne Ritchie, Porkhill Farms
- 1417 acres.
- Corn, soybeans, wheat and edible beans.
- 10 years of data recorded on customized, paper file-folders.
- Farm layout, diagram, number of fields per farm, crop, previous crop, acres,
variety, planting, fertilization, manure application and spraying dates and
details and Bt refuge splits all recorded on the year's file.
- Folder carried at all times allowing for data and observations to be recorded.
- Bev also facilitates on-farm research trials that help select the best varieties
to grow in future years.
"My record keeping system keeps my operation on track. The biggest benefit
is in helping plan my rotations. My records allow me to see what previous crops
I've grown and help me make planting decisions for the next one and two crop
Mark Lumley, Fair Wind Farms
- 4100 acres across 58 properties.
- Corn, soybeans, winter wheat, sugar beats and winter canola.
- Utilizes a variety of computer programs to varying degrees.
- 15 years of field records and crop plans recorded in a customized Excel
spreadsheet which is connected to a personal organizer.
- Yield and nutrient maps help plan nutrient requirements and identify yield
- Spreadsheet booklet transferred between each implement during the season
for employees to record planting, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting data.
- Facilitates on-farm research trials that help select the best varieties
to grow in future years.
"I couldn't imagine being able to remember everything I've done. I don't
personally go over all my acres, so the only way I get to see my land is through
the records my employees keep and I enter into my system. I gain a lot of subtle
insights from my record keeping and yield maps. I start to see trends that I
wouldn't see if I didn't have data to look at." -30-